WikiLeaks Sues Visa, Mastercard Over Payment Ban

WikiLeaks and DataCell are seeking revenge on Visa and Mastercard for blocking donations to the site

WikiLeaks has announced it is planning to sue payments companies Visa and Mastercard for suspending donations processing after the whistleblowing site started publishing leaked diplomatic cables in November 2010.

Lawyers representing WikiLeaks and DataCell – a service provider assisting WikiLeaks – have accused Visa and Mastercard of engaging in an unlawful US-influenced financial blockade, and warned that if the two companies do not remove the block on payments then a request for prosecution will be filed with the EU Commission.

The lawyers, based in Denmark and Iceland, said that the coordinated action by Visa and Mastercard to block all credit card transactions to WikiLeaks and DataCell constituted a violation of Articles 101(1) and 102 of the European Union’s Competition Rules, and also violated Danish merchant laws.

Bowing to political pressure

Visa and Mastercard suspended WikiLeaks processing in December 2010, following similar action by online payment service PayPal. Mastercard said at the time that it would take action against any organisation it believed to be involved in illegal activities “until the situation is resolved”.

The decision prompted a furious reaction from DataCell CEO Andreas Fink, who published two impassioned blogs warning that both card issuers would have to be ready to take damage claims of “billions of Euros” and could lose “a big chunk of their business”.

“We strongly believe a world class company such as Visa should not get involved [in] politics and just simply do [the] business [that] they are good at. Transferring money,” wrote Fink.

Following news of the blockades, both the websites of Visa and Mastercard were hit by a series of focused distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, carried out by the notorious group of hackers known as Anonymous, as part of its Operation:Payback campaign.

Mastercard then suffered a repeat attack in June, thought to have been carried out by hacker group LulzSec – an offshoot of Anonymous. “ DOWN!!!, thats what you get when you mess with @wikileaks @Anon_Central and the enter community of lulz loving individuals :D,” read a tweet by @ibomhacktivist on 28 June.

Abuse of market dominance

A spokesperson for Visa confirmed to eWEEK Europe that Visa Europe had received a letter from DataCell’s legal representatives. “We will be responding in due course to them,” the spokesperson added. Mastercard did not respond to a request for information in time for the publication of this article.

Visa holds about 70 percent of the payments market in Europe, while MasterCard has around 26 percent of the market. Collectively, these franchises therefore hold approximately 96 percent of the market for acquiring services in Europe.

DataCell claims that the card companies’ decision to boycott Datacell constitutes an abuse of market dominance in the meaning of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which prohibits all agreements and concerted practices that prevent, restrict or distort competition within the internal market.

The penalty for infringing the competition rules of the EU can amount to 10 percent of the turnover of the companies involved, the company said.